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I’ve never been a big fan of my own birthday parties. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the presents, birthdays or parties in general. Just not that fond of being a host and feeling like I have to talk to everyone present. So when Kim announced we’d be spending the entire weekend of my birthday “somewhere else”, I was kind of relieved & excited at the same time. All I knew was that I had to bring my running gear. And that we had to be somewhere at 9 o’clock and that it would take us about 1.5 hours to get there.

And so it is that, the day before my birthday, we wake up at around 6.45, get geared up, put Kim’s bike on the back of the car and, after I’m instructed to upload a mysterious GPX file to my Garmin GPS watch, head off to an unknown destination. On the way there, more details are released. It turns out we are headed to an organised bike tour trip of about 156k, which Kim will take part in. I, on the other hand, receive the coördinates of the start of the mysterious gpx track and 7 hours of time. What I do with those hours is entirely up to me. Happy birthday!

I make it sound like a bad thing but, all kidding aside, there are few things that make me happier than being dumped in an unknown, challenging, forest with my running gear and a few hours to spare. So as soon as I get rid of Kim, I head for Remauchamps, the start of my surprise trail run. Once, there, I quickly gear up, load the route and start running.

The track soon takes me off-road, up-hill and in-forest. That’s not really a word, but let’s say it is. It feels a bit like I leave civilisation and it’s rushing pace behind me and as I do so, my pace drops and I start taking in my surroundings. It’s funny how I feel at home out here, even though I probably wouldn’t survive all that long if It all came down to my survival skills. I’m no Chris Mccandless.

Every climb looks tempting. Every summit a moment of eternal silence and rest. Every descent an open invitation to run down as fast as my legs will carry me. I’m having a blast. I reach Ninglinspo, a small stream Kim has told me about before we split up. It’s beautiful and since I have more time to spare than the way back will take me, I start exploring the area.

I barely got off-track when I run into some markings on the ground and arrows attached to trees. I start following them and they lead me through and across the river for a while and then into the forest. It’s amazing out here and I can hardly believe how lucky I am to run into these markings… And then I run into the guys putting up the markings.

Turns out these guys are in the organisation of the Ohm trail which is happening the very next day. We talk for a while, all round nice & passionate guys, these two. I resume my run and leave them and the handy markings behind. I’m on my own again now. I circle around and head back for Ninglinspo and then, after a pit stop at a local bar, back to the car. I reach it after just under 50k, still feeling reasonably well. I’m jealous of the guys running the Ohm trail the next day (amongst whom Thomas, who would win it). From what I saw it seems to be a really nice trail run and in my head I decide to come back next year, on race day this time.

I pick up Kim and we head for a mysterious bed and breakfast in Chaudfontaine. To both our surprise, it turns out to be the exact same B&B Dries and I stayed at the night before my first Olne-Spa-Olne back in 2011. This time, we have more time to kill so we spend some time in and by the swimming pool before having a really nice dinner.

The next day we both go on a short trip to explore the neighbourhood. Kim by bike, me by foot. It’s demanding to say the least (the B&B is situated on top of a hill where, as our host will have us believe, Philippe Gilbert often trains. Every street has its own warning sign, mentioning inclines anywhere north of 15%. We have a nice breakfast and head for Liege, a city whose reputation doesn’t do it justice. It’s beautiful & charming. We have a nice walk and head back home. Tired. Happy. And in my case: one year older.

 

 

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